While We Happy Few was always intended to feature an overarching story tied to the breakdown of society in Wellington Wells, it’s morphed into a more linear title compared with the survival roguelike early access players will be familiar with. Epstein told me putting it out there was a good opportunity to test mechanics, but that Compulsion wanted to save the expansive narrative for launch. “We went from a more systemic game to… ‘This is an adventure.’ We fleshed out the story,” he said.
Still, it’s a mixture of stealth, crafting and combat, and the world remains procedurally generated in part. There are places you have to visit to advance the story, but these handcrafted locations will be placed within automatically populated open worlds. Various side quests that expand on the lore of Wellington Wells will appear in different playthroughs, too, so there’s a hope replayability will continue to be a draw of the game.
Death isn’t permanent, and the survival mechanics are a little more forgiving than they once were. Hunger and thirst, for example, will only debuff your character, not spell an untimely end if you can’t find food. Each protagonist requires you to approach the game in different ways. Arthur, for example, is basically invisible. As long as you’re dressed appropriately and don’t act out, you can quite easily walk the streets without drawing unwanted attention from the Joy-guzzling crowd.
Sally can also conform, though given her status she doesn’t blend into the background. Being a petite Wellette, combat is not her forte, but she’s a master chemist who often only needs a syringe to solve her problems. Ollie, however, sticks out like a sore thumb and he can’t take Joy on account of it making him ill. He’s a bruiser, being most comfortable with a heavy weapon in hand. But as a big, powerful guy, he lacks speed and stamina. Depending on who you’re playing, you’ll have to adapt your strategy and rely more heavily on some mechanics than others.
We Happy Few has gone through an abnormal development cycle that’s seen the game change significantly since it first hit early access programs. Even at a time when multiplayer titles are dominating the conversation, Compulsion is content that it’s got something special on its hands. “You’re not going to come away from Fortnite feeling sad, or troubled,” Epstein said. “I think we’re doing some things that I haven’t seen done in video games.” Talking about the way the story progresses, he said: “We have a lot more faith in the player’s ability to interpret information, rather than having to have it all spelled out.”
It’s fair to say that We Happy Few has been highly anticipated for some time, and there’s no better proof of that than Microsoft acquiring your studio before your new game even launches. Compulsion is one of five companies Microsoft snapped up last month in an attempt to rectify its first-party problem. The last big-name game from a Microsoft studio was Rare’s Sea of Thieves, and that’s been met with a lukewarm response due to a lack of any great depth. We Happy Few isn’t really a first-party title, though. Development is all but complete, Gearbox Software remains the publisher and there are no plans for the game to feature on the Xbox Game Pass subscription.